Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pet Sounds at 50 and reflections on talking to Brian Wilson

It was 50 years ago this week that The Beach Boys' released their celebrated "Pet Sounds," which featured signature hits like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows."
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

A magnum opus from Brian Wilson, Wilson and a band featuring Beach Boys alumni Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin are on a world tour performing the ambitiously creative album in its entirety.
While you're waiting for the September tour dates in southeastern Pennsylvania, a special four-disc "Pet Sounds" anniversary edition is set for release on June 10. It includes mono, stereo and alternate mixes, vocal harmony tracks in isolation, and insight into Wilson's Phil Spector-esque use of full-on live takes, with flutes, saxophones, xylophone/marimba, and even bits from the dog barking session that graced the outro to "Caroline, No."
During the studio chatter on that track, Wilson can be heard saying: "Hey Chuck, is it possible we could bring a horse in here, if we don't screw anything up?"
Then someone chimes in: "Brian, my horse would be so bitchin' in here."
Brian Wilson signs an autograph in a photo from the "Pet Sounds" 50th Anniversary booklet.
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

Other neat outtakes are work-in-progress versions of "Good Vibrations," various live performances through the decades, the unused backing track "Trombone Dixie" and humorous custom introductions for radio stations for "Caroline, No."
As sweet as that tweet comes across, Wilson himself is friendly enough, but frustratingly tight-lipped and disengaged when talking one-on-one about the tour, "Pet Sounds," "Love and Mercy" ... anything.
"Ticket" writer Dutch Godshalk and I were astounded that a phone interview we did with the famously tortured genius took maybe 14 minutes. Here's a couple different theories I have about that:
  1. Brian Wilson is one of these cats that plays mind games with the press. Bob Dylan took it to a horrifying extreme in the 1967 documenatary "Don't Look Back."
  2. Wilson justifiably has trust issues and doesn't open up to very many people.  
  3. A catastrophic combination of past drug use and mental illness may be contributing factors to him staying within an invisible insular bubble, in the name of self-preservation. When I asked for his thoughts on the opiod problem in America, he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. When asked how his daughter, Carnie, and her husband -- musician and 1985 Souderton grad Rob Bonfiglio -- were doing, he said he hadn't talked to them in some time.  
In sad conclusion, this world is an extremely cruel place for purely original and vulnerably sensitive people like Brian Wilson. It just grinds them up and spits them out. "I Just Wasn't made for These Times," indeed!